Yesterday I found this title in my email, and I couldn’t resist: You’ll comment on this story. But you probably won’t read it. If you regularly read what I write, I bet you won’t be able to resist it either. There’s comfort in it. The thing is, comfort is stunting your growth. And maybe that’s not the worst of it.

We live in an echo chamber

The premise of Shelly Palmer’s article is that we live increasingly in a world in which we hear only that with which we agree, driven to a great degree by social media along with the proliferation of online content that passes for news. We tend to connect online with people who agree with us.  We disconnect from people who post points of view with whom we disagree. In part, that’s probably because so much of what gets posted is from sources filled with one-side sound bites, headlined with click-bait, with content that informs little and polarizes much.

You probably read mostly Breitbart, or mostly Slate. They are both guilty of the same crimes, but on different ends of the political spectrum. You watch mostly MSNBC, or Fox. You hit “like” on those Facebook posts with which you agree, and so its algorithm shows you more of similar links. You retweet 140-character thoughts and Twitter’s algorithm suggests you follow people with similar ideas.

The result is an echo chamber, in which ideas reverberate rather than interact. Eventually, the resonance begins to hurt, like the crystal shattered by the vibration induced by a pure high pitch. There is no growth in an echo chamber.

Try this experiment

Test out for yourself the premise of Palmer’s article. Next time you are reading something, probably online – maybe even this post – notice the point at which you first have the impulse to skip the rest. As soon as you notice it, ask yourself, why? Maybe you just don’t like the style, maybe it’s boring, maybe you want to stop for any one of a hundred reasons that are perfectly legitimate.

But I think Palmer is right: the two most common reasons you’ll want to stop reading are either (a) that you so violently disagree that you can’t stand to read another word, or (b) that you so violently agree that there’s no point in reading any more. My challenge to you is, instead of giving in to that impulse, hang in there long enough to notice what you are doing. If you want to move on because you hate what you’re reading, can you find just one small thing of interest, that might give you an insight into why someone would write it? If you want to move on because you already know you agree, can you find one thing in it that’s new, that perhaps you hadn’t thought of?

Look, I’m not asking you to kill yourself reading real dreck. I’m just asking you to pause long enough to see if perhaps there is something new that you might learn. Especially if you disagree.

Intellectual comfort prevents growth

Finally, there’s this, from the article, that really got my attention:

… a cacophony of isolated echo chambers, each believing that they have the moral high ground, and each sure that their respective deity is on their side. It’s clearly where we are headed, and in practice, we may already be there. You may not think that your comfort zone could destroy the world, but your comfort zone is a place where you accept the things you cannot change. To make the world a better place, it’s time for all of us to change the things we cannot accept.”

Growth doesn’t happen without discomfort. We don’t change, and we don’t change the world, by being comfortable. Things change when we stretch, get curious, and challenge ourselves and each other to be more. Check out this 91 second video, one of my favorites:

I love that line

If lobsters had doctors they would never grow. Because as soon as the lobster gets uncomfortable, [it] goes to the doctor, gets a valium, gets a percocet, feels fine! It would never cast off its shell.

A challenge for growth

Here’s my challenge for growth, in three parts:

  1. Read something that makes you squirm a little.
  2. Find someone you disagree with, and engage them in a civil conversation.
  3. Repeat every day for a week.

If you’re willing, leave a comment about your experience.

Dr. Les Kertay

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